What can the EPC network do that existing bar code systems can’t do?

Bar codes are a line-of-sight technology. That is, a scanner has to “see” the bar code to read it. That means people usually have to orient the bar code towards a scanner for it to be read. Also, if a bar code label is ripped, soiled or falls off, there is no way to scan the item. Radio frequency identification, by contrast, doesn’t require line of sight. RFID tags can be read as long as they are within range of a reader. And since radio waves pass through plastic, tags can be protected from damage. Because RFID tags can communicate with readers without line of sight in most cases, RFID also has the potential to reduce out of stocks. Studies show that, on average, products are not on the store shelves 7 percent of the time. Every time a customer leaves a store without buying what they came for because it wasn’t on the shelf, the retailer and the manufacturer lose out. RFID has the potential to dramatically reduce out of stocks by providing real-time visibility into what’s on the store shelves. It also has the potential to dramatically reduce theft by alerting store employees to unusual activity at the shelves. It may also reduce employee theft, counterfeiting, administrative errors, and mass recalls. And there are some unique benefits associated with the ability to track individual items. Down the road, RFID tags have the potential to be combined with sensors to monitor the status of the product. Sensors might, for instance, detect that a shipment of milk was left in a warm environment for a period of time. Computer systems could then bring forward the milk’s expiration date to account for the lack of refrigeration. Sensors might also reveal whether food products have been spoiled or tampered with. Once a company has installed the infrastructure to take advantage of tracking products over the EPC network, other capabilities can be added cost effectively.

Posted in: The EPCglobal Network